6 Ways to Boost Your Rentals, Communication and Cash Flow

Want more rentals? At the 2016 NAMM Show, Frank Pampenella of PM Music Center shared the keys to boosting band and orchestra rentals—and cash flow. A successful school music dealer with 31 employees, Pampenella stressed communication as the knot that ties it all together. “With better communications, you’re going to get better customer service, and that’s what really leads to more rentals,” he said.

Here are Pampenella’s six steps to growing a rental business:

1. Gain trust with music directors. According to Pampenella, when you contact directors, you’re perceived as a salesperson in many cases. Contact them on behalf of their students. (They care about their students.) Let them know their students are coming into your store, and you’re calling to gather information, so you’re better prepared to help the students. Find out the director’s specifications on instruments and supplies. Have a list of questions for directors, such as:

• Coronet or trumpet?
• Wooden clarinet or plastic clarinet?
• Brand preference?
• String preference on their orchestra instruments?
• Do they take shoulder rests?
• Do they want a special rosin in their string cases?
• What strength of reed?
• What method books they use?

2. Communicate directors’ needs to your staff, and create credibility with your store. The hard part is relaying information to your staff.

• Have tools in place. Pampenella explained that this staff is trained to pull up his Excel spreadsheets and use them. “It cuts down on mistakes, and you do the right thing time and again,” Pampenella said.

• Always go by school. Make sure your information is organized by school, not just by district since some districts have multiple directors and may use difference method books in the same school. Pampenella’s spreadsheet contains such details as brands, strength of reeds and preferences. (For instance, a certain band director might want his basses taped.) If you pay attention to the details, directors will start to develop trust with your store. When they see a case tagged from your store, they’ll notice you’re on top of it, and eventually, they’ll send a student to your store. “You opened the door, and you can start to offer your sales and services and rental program,” Pampenella said.

• Create credibility. When customers walk into your store, they like see a representation of the school band and orchestra instruments in your rental pool. PM Music Center has a prominent wall display that customers see as they enter. PM Music also has a stringed instrument room. Pampenella encouraged retailers to display instruments at a level where kids can touch and feel them. Parents are happy to see their kids get excited about playing an instrument.

3. Use customer notes to keep your staff on the same page. Write down any interactions with customers (you’re promising something to them or they’re promising something to you). Most databases have the option to create a customer and put notes in that customer’s account. It’s important to write down such information as price or whether a customer promised to send you a check. This gives you and your staff confidence in talking with customers, knowing you have the correct information.

4. Have a task list for your road reps. Pampenella related that his educational reps are some of the busiest people on staff. They have hundreds of tasks to do on a weekly basis, so you want them to leave as little to memory as possible. PM Music Center uses its contact management system as a task list. Pampenella shared a sample CMS screen from his store with tasks and notes. It’s a timesaver for the rep to follow the trail and close out a task upon completion. Any of the employees in the store can confirm the information, should there be questions from a director or school.

5. Use all store meetings to enhance the customer service. At PM Music Center’s all-store meetings, employees talk about trends they see, upcoming events and sales, and new product demos. A couple of years ago, Pampenella tasked his staff to go out and bring back their own personal customer service stories. He created a list for their reference: how clean was the store; were you greeted; was the salesperson knowledgeable; what was the checkout process like; and did they say goodbye when you left? Every employee came back with a story and was excited to tell it. Pampenella revealed that this process made customer service personal for his team.

PM Music Center also films its all-store meetings, and everyone has to watch the video before the next meeting. At the end of the meeting, employees share a couple of customer service stories. “Our customer service has gone up a notch,” Pampenella said.

6. Increase cash flow with auto-pays and automated calls. PM Music Center went to automatic bill payments for its customers several years ago. Pampenella and his team strongly encourage customers to sign up. Customers are charged a one-time administrative fee and must provide a working debit card to be kept on file. (Employees explain that’s the way they secure their payment, and if the customer’s late, they will be charged a late fee.) Pampenella stated that 99 percent go on auto pay. PM Music Center’s cash flow has increased since setting up auto pay. According to Pampenella, fewer people owe money because their cards automatically get charged.

PM Music Center uses automated calls (VoiceShot) and emails to let customers know their cards are going to expire. Pampenella stated that the company went from 10 percent to no more than 2 percent collections, and he credited this to having a system in place that he and his team work on a regular basis.